New Zealand is a wonderful place to ride a motorcycle. I just had a week and a half riding the south island and apart from some mixed weather at first I have to say it was some of the best riding I have ever experienced.
I flew into Christchurch to meet a mate who was joining me on this ride and wow that city is really in bad shape from the earthquake. The TV cameras have long gone but the damage lives on with the majority of the downtown and neighboring areas one huge ghost town looking like something out of a WW2 movie. I have to suggest if you are going there to stay out of town as there simply is nothing open in the centre in the way of food etc.
I had booked a Suzuki Vstrom with City Motorcycle rentals Christchurch and the owners really looked after me before and after, very friendly - highly recommended.
Plan was to do a leisurely loop around the south island with plenty of time spare to allow for weather and sightseeing. First of all went to the West Coast over Authur’s Pass and via Lake Brunner. Beautiful scenery and great sweepers to ride. After this I rode north to Westport along the coast. This road easy equals our Great Ocean Road for beautiful scenery and great curves that never let up for 90km. Like most of New Zealand it has generous road speed limits and low to zero police patrols outside of major towns.
I really liked riding the Northern part of the South Island. There is a network of roads servicing the rural areas that are all well surveyed and surfaced with next to no traffic. You need to plan your fuel as services can be few and far between but this isolation was something I enjoyed. The Buller Gorge area was particularly good riding. The Lewis Pass also a lot of fun and I would explore the area north to Picton more if I was to go again.
Riding down the west coast is at times dramatic as you skirt the ocean then have the mountains rise up as you get closer to Franz Joseph. I have already done the helicopter to the top of the alps so just chilled in town while my mate experienced it, well worth the money if you are there sometime in my opinion.
The Alps recede as you once again skirt the ocean riding south. There is a almost tropical feel to the vegetation but only for a short time before you turn left and climb up into the high mountains. Riding over Mt Aspiring you can enjoy a series of sweepers that go on and on, beautiful riding before exiting the mountain to Lake Wanaka where you hug the cliff for some exciting twisty road riding.
About now I had accustomed to the Vstrom and will try explain my thoughts on it from my riding experience. Being high it certainly felt like a large bike compared to most I have ridden however it is not heavy and not difficult to ride at low speed. All day comfortable seating and very stable in the sweepers, these would be the bikes strong points.
Less willing to provide a quick change of direction and on twisty roads a bit of work to drop in and come out of switchbacks, but I am comparing to a sports bike so I am not being very fare. I would have liked a little more passing power but got used to working the gear box which is smooth.
I experienced a lot of wind buffering to my helmet despite adjusting the screen and I hope this is limited to only me. I guess between the buffering and plus size/height I did not personally find it a match. But I have limited experience touring and on other bikes and I tended to ride it like a sports bike chasing my mad mate half the time. It is not designed for how I was riding it. For me the CBF600 I had in Europe did everything a little better as a touring machine, better wind protection and more power and comfort so sure the 19" front wheel on this will be little better on gravel but up so high on what is not a light trail bike sort of cancels that out and having ridden 17" on gravel the difference if both are on road tyres is almost nothing so adventure bikes like this don't add up for me. But that’s just my personal experience
From Wanaka I rode the spectacular Crown Range, perhaps the highest road I traversed this tour over to historic Arrowtown. I was a it disappointed with Arrowtown, they have this wonderfully preserved frontier look town yet the main street is chock o block full with new SUV’s and hire cars all blocking the shop frontages and spoiling any chance of photo’s. Seriously, ditch the cars in the main street folks…
Riding to Glenorchy via Authurs Point encountered a spot of rain. It looked rather heavy ahead so after some thought's turned around and went past Queenstown and tried the road from Frankston down to Kingston. Here too ran into some rain and turned around and then my GPS froze so pulled over to reset it and after a small while could see the rain had already blown over the nearby mountain so did another u turn and managed to get a nice ride in to Kingston and back.
Riding across from Frankston to Lake Tepaco there is an amazingly diverse landscape, from snow covered mountains and fiord like lakes the country changes as you traverse the superb Lindis range and on to an area with huge tree less grassy hills with lunar like canyons. Fortunately the roads are magic all the way with superb riding to be enjoyed.
Very strong cross winds on last few days, coming into lake Tepaco the wind would blow me across my lane which was no fun at all. The temperatures plunged so I had to don my thermal base layer but generally was comfortable despite the ice blast wind. The water in these glacier fed lakes has the most amazing blue tinge which you have to see to believe.
Lastly, spectacular scenery and great riding roads are located quite close to Christchurch in the Akaroa area. If you only had one day then hire a motorcycle and head straight there for a fun day riding the twisty mountain roads that run around the edge of the extinct volcano rim that surrounds the village below.
I had a great time riding NZ albeit with my long term medical issue stopping the proceedings half way through. Definitely am going to cancel my initial plan for a big USA ride next year and down size it to something more manageable.
The roads in NZ are great and have so few cars that they are a non event. Motorcycle hire was quite reasonable, about $150NZ a day all inclusive. Airfares from Australia are as low as $99AUS, fuel was between $2.15-2.20 a litre but the Vstrom was cheap to operate even at these rates.
Accommodation will run you about $100-140NZ a night, I found Wi-Fi lacking despite claims otherwise so ask before you book if web access is important. Meals ran between $20-$40NZ each but fast food is much cheaper than this if you wanted to go that way. I cannot think of anywhere you could go and ride so many fantastic roads so affordably.
Get the hell over there!